Thibodeau: Maine legislators close to deal that includes hiring 10 more drug agents

The Maine Legislature’s top Republican said Monday that leaders of both parties have made strides on a plan to fight the state’s drug epidemic. That plan includes hiring 10 new drug agents, a demand made frequently by Gov Paul LePage since lawmakers passed a budget in June that funds four new drug agent positions.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said he hopes key legislators will continue to advance the plan this month so it will be ready for the full House and Senate to consider when lawmakers return for the 127th Legislature’s second session in January.

However, legislative leaders weren’t presenting a totally united front and it’s unclear exactly how far they’ve gone toward trying to solve one of Maine’s key political issues.

LePage has said he’d call out the National Guard to fight drugs by Dec. 10 if legislators don’t commit to providing money to hire 10 more agents for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Legislative leaders have committed to advancing “a comprehensive plan” on drugs that increases law enforcement, education and treatment options. It’s aimed at stemming the flow of heroin and other drugs that killed 105 Mainers in the first half of 2015.

Full details of that plan haven’t been released, although legislative leaders have agreed to consider a handful of drug bills next year and on Monday, leaders from both parties in the Legislature met to discuss the plan.

Afterward,  Thibodeau said they agreed to advance the plan this month, when a committee would likely meet to discuss the framework of a bill ahead of the January session.

Most importantly, Thibodeau said there’s “a high probability that we’re going to come together on something that includes the 10 agents that the administration needs” and other provisions, though he cautioned that he wasn’t speaking for all leaders.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was less committal. Lindsay Crete, his spokeswoman, said “nothing has been confirmed yet,” but “education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement are expected to be included.”

So, Thibodeau and Eves may be out of sync on messaging, but they’re saying similar things. Most of all, Thibodeau’s remarks are a sign that he’s optimistic about a deal.

“I think that over the next few days, we’re going to end up with a workable plan that everybody will be able to sign onto,” Thibodeau said.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.